By Andrew M. Mwenda
Gedanken is Latin for ‘thought experiments.’ Romans must have borrowed it from the Greeks; it is Socrates who began the practice of questioning dogmas and assumptions. Whenever Athenians claimed to have delivered justice or to have been honest, Socrates would ask, ‘totee?’ or ‘what is it? What do you mean by these words with which you so easily settle debates?’ As Will Durant has written, this would let loose the dogs of intellectual war, a fact that makes Plato’s dialogues a compelling read.
Let us gedanken the assumptions that inform homophobia in Uganda and therefore shaped David Bahati’s anti-gay bill. Those opposed to homosexuality argue that it is un-African. But they do not point out any specific traditional and cultural sanctions against gays in any particular pre-colonial African society. Instead, they turn to Christianity ‘ a religion that is not African and is indeed against many African traditions.
Africa is a continent of over 6,000 cultures. None of these ‘African cultural fundamentalists’ actually knows the traditions of any pre-colonial African society in significant detail. So their claims are without any empirical basis. Many studies show that homosexuality existed in pre-colonial Africa attracting differing levels of acceptance. One such study was by Prof. Tibamanya Mwene Mushanga showing that homosexuality was practised and tolerated among the Bahima in pre-colonial Ankole.
Many African cultures do not even have the word homosexuality. This suggests that either the practice did not exist (which is very unlikely) and so society did not take a moral position on it or it existed on the margins (which is very likely) but society had not pronounced itself on it. Either way, pre-colonial Africa was not hostile to homosexuality. Instead, this hostility began with the introduction of Christianity and colonial rule.
It is very difficult to use Christianity to justify Bahati’s bill because throughout his ministry, Jesus scorned capital punishment for moral wrongs. When Jesus found a crowd trying to stone to death a young woman who had committed adultery, He only said; ‘let he who has never sinned cast the first stone’ and the crowd melted away. He rejected all rigid enforcement of religious dogmas including of the Sabath; so it is difficult to use His teachings to kill anyone in His name.
In his reply to my column, Bahati argued that sins like murder, rape and theft are punished under our criminal system. Granted! But these are acts that harm third parties. Sins like fornication are not criminalised because they do not harm others. Simon’s sex with Jane does not harm me; the same should apply to John and Moses or Sandra and Susan. Almost all our leaders from the president down have second and third wives. Bahati tolerates adultery and fornication but is hostile to homosexuality. Why?
In their hostility to homosexuality, Bahati and his supporters are not driven by Christian beliefs ‘ although they may genuinely think they are. Rather they are driven by a deeply held prejudice. A prejudice is a predisposition to something, a bias that is often not informed by facts but by intuition, tradition or culture. It is the mother of chauvinism, bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness. A prejudice may be rooted in religion, culture or pseudo science, but it also helps to produce them.
Four decades ago, it would have been scandalous for a woman in Uganda to wear trousers or a mini skirt. When they began to wear them, there was an outcry from male chauvinists that our culture was going to the dogs. Now they do and we are still okay. When black people demanded equal rights in the US, white society talked of a coming apocalypse. Just read The New York Times of July 5, 1910 after Jack Johnson (black) knocked out Jim Jeffries (white) in the world heavyweight boxing title match. Cultural change is difficult to accept but inevitable.
As I have travelled around the world and confronted different cultures, I have learnt just how narrow-minded some of my cultural beliefs are. I have been served snails and lizards in Nigeria, rats in Ghana, pig brains in Hungary and dog meat in South Korea. Every self respecting peasant in my village would consider the people who eat these foods primitive. To cope requires open mindedness.
Bahati said he would not wish his son to marry my son and invite him for the wedding. That is a good wish. But what would he do if that happened ‘ and it is a real possibility? Former US vice president Dick Cheney was like Bahati until his daughter turned out to be lesbian. It is always better to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Unknown to Bahati, a gay/lesbian person could be his son, brother, wife, mother or best friend. He will never know because they just hide it from him.
Anti-homosexuals claim that if gays are accepted, humanity may get extinct. Yet they do not strike me as being that grandiose in ambition i.e. seeking to save humankind. The challenge facing us is over-population. That is why there are many birth control and family planning programmes being promoted around us. In this case, homosexuality should be welcome because it will check over-population.
The biggest threat to human life is war ‘ so we should see Bahati and group campaigning against nuclear proliferation and the spread of other weapons of mass destruction. The other danger is climate change caused by human activity through industrial expansion and population pressures. In Uganda, corruption that has killed our healthcare system is a bigger danger to life than gays. A seriously committed save-humanity crusader would have more serious issues to deal with before declaring war on homosexuals.
Bahati and his supporters are concerned about ‘our children’ in schools who are being ‘lured’ into homosexuality. Yet the biggest problem is heterosexual men using money to lure young girls into sex. Homosexuals are a tiny minority in this game to attract the attention Bahati is giving them. Defilement is bad whether done by a man to a girl or a man to a boy. We do not need a separate law for gays to deter sex with minors.